The Southern Kingdom of Judah
“But as for the children of Israel which dwelt in the cities of Judah, Rehoboam reigned over them. Then king Rehoboam sent Adoram, who [was] over the tribute; and all Israel stoned him with stones, that he died. Therefore king Rehoboam made speed to get him up to his chariot, to flee to Jerusalem. So Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day. And it came to pass, when all Israel heard that Jeroboam was come again, that they sent and called him unto the congregation, and made him king over all Israel”
– 1 Kings 12:17-20
The Old Testament – A Brief Overview
The Southern Kingdom (Judah)
The Southern Kingdom consisted of 2 tribes (Judah and Benjamin). The kingdom extended in the north as far as Bethel, while in the south it ended in the dry area known as the Negev. Its eastern and western boundaries were the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Jerusalem was its capital and it lasted from about 922-586 B.C.
Judah was left suddenly independent when Rehoboam flatly refused to lighten the heavy load of forced labour and high taxation imposed on the Israelites by his father Solomon (1 Kings 12:1-24). Upon Rehoboam’s refusal, the ten tribes living north of Bethel promptly declared their independence.
But something else occurred along with this Division. An entirely unexpected blow that devastated Judah. Shishak, Pharaoh of Egypt, invaded the country, plundered the treasures of the Temple and the royal palace, and destroyed a number of newly built fortresses (2 Chr. 12:1-12). Judah never recovered from the sudden loss of her national wealth. Because her land was not as fertile as that of the northern kingdom of Israel, Judah never enjoyed the same degree of prosperity. Rehoboam wanted to attack Israel and reunite the kingdom by force, but a Word from the Lord came to Shemaiah the prophet saying,
I Kings 12:24 ‘Thus says the LORD: “You shall not go up nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel.”
Judah had somewhat of a better record. Only 8 of Judah’s kings served God. These were: Asa, Jehoshaphat, Joash, Amaziah, Uzziah, Jotham, Hezekiah, and Josiah. The rest of the 20 kings were wicked. In the southern kingdom, there was only one dynasty, that of King David, except usurper Athaliah from the northern kingdom, who by marriage, broke into David’s line, and interrupted the succession for 6 years, 20 kings in all. An average of about 16 years to a reign.
Jehoshaphat’s son Jehoram (about 848-841 B.C.) married Athaliah, daughter of King Ahab and the wicked Queen Jezebel; and their marriage led to Baal worship also being established in Jerusalem (2 Kings 8:18). Jehoram’s son Ahaziah reigned only for one year (841 B.C.) before he was killed. The pagan queen-mother Athaliah seized the throne and nearly brought the Davidic line to extinction by killing most of Ahaziah’s sons. Only the infant Joash escaped; he was rescued by his aunt Jehoshabeath and her husband Jehoiada, the godly high priest (2 Chronicles 22:10-12). After six years Joash was proclaimed the lawful king, and Athaliah was executed.
Baal worship climaxed in Judah during the reign of Ahaz (2 Ki 16). Ahaz (about 732-715 B.C.), was faced with Assyria’s rise to power under Tiglath-pileser III; but Ahaz resisted the urgings of Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Israel to join an alliance against Assyria. Instead, Ahaz sought help from Assyria, against the prophet Isaiah’s advice, and received assistance in return for heavy tribute. Syria and the kingdom of Israel were destroyed in 722 B.C., leaving Judah at the mercy of the Assyrians.
When Hezekiah (about 714-686 B. C.) succeeded Ahaz, he also disregarded Isaiah’s advice and became involved in a coalition with Babylonia and Egypt against Assyria. Assyria, now ruled by Sennacherib, moved against Jerusalem in 701 B. C. It was at this time that Hezekiah constructed the Siloam Tunnel to bring water from the Spring of Gihon into the city of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 32:30). But then something very strange happened. Somehow, miraculously the Assyrians withdrew from attacking Jerusalem after suffering heavy losses, perhaps from a plague. History leaves a big question mark at this point. Why didn’t Sennacherib build a siege mound against Jerusalem and completely conquer it? The Bible reveals something very interesting:
Isaiah 37:33-38 “Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: ‘He shall not come into this city, nor shoot an arrow there, nor come before it with shield, nor build a siege mound against it. By the way that he came, by the same shall he return; and he shall not come into this city,’ says the LORD. ‘For I will defend this city, to save it for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake.’ “Then the angel of the LORD went out, and killed in the camp of the Assyrians one hundred and eighty-five thousand; and when people arose early in the morning, there were the corpses– all dead. So Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went away, returned home, and remained at Nineveh. Now it came to pass, as he was worshipping in the house of Nisroch his god, that his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer struck him down with the sword; and they escaped into the land of Ararat. Then Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place.
Revival came during the reign of Hezekiah but it was immediately swept aside by Manasseh, who was Judah’s most wicked and longest-ruling king. The nation never fully recovered from the effects of this evil king. Manasseh’s son Amon continued in his father’s depravity, but he soon was murdered. His successor Josiah (about 640-609 B.C.) restored traditional covenant religion, which was based on the Book of the Law newly discovered in a Temple storeroom (2 Chronicles 34:14). Many did not follow Josiah’s example, however, and the prophet Zephaniah foretold disaster for the nation. By 610 B.C. the Assyrian Empire had collapsed under Babylonian attacks, and Babylon prepared to march against Egypt, which had been helping the Assyrians. Against Jeremiah’s advice, Josiah intervened and was killed at Megiddo.
After Josiah there was no hope for Judah, the last 3 kings were all evil. The Babylonians swept down upon Jerusalem in 597 B. C. and captured it. A second attack led to Jerusalem’s second defeat in 586 B. C. Captives from both campaigns were taken to Babylonia to mark the captivity of the Southern Kingdom.